an eternal flame


Sometimes Simon asks me to write something for his blog. Last night I did. The subject was bittersweet songs and what they dredged up from the dreaded memory files.

Tonight was going to be the night I wrote my long-awaited (ha ha, not really) Animals in our Art Collection post. But now I’m buying time and rehashing day-old writing. A little disappointing, I know, but it’s better than putting up a gone fishing sign, surely? (The fishing sign is on its way, don’t you worry about that.)

It means I can have a ‘working dinner’ – that’s what we have around here lately – and crack on with Frankie, who is positively bursting with new things to say right now.

Later on tonight we’re going to see Neko Case at San Fran Bath House, which will be ace. We went to see The Books and Camera Obscura last night. It was pretty cool. I was a bit sad that Camera Obscura didn’t do 80s Fan though, which is my favourite. So I bought one of their tote bags with a peacock on it, and all was well again. So shallow.

Right, here’s what I wrote yesterday, followed by the link to the full post. And I’m off to do the Frankie thing. Wish me luck.

Every time I hear Eternal Flame something weird happens to me. It’s not really what I’d call nostalgia – because that would imply a recollection of something pleasant – and it’s not like abject terror from an accidental confrontation with a suppressed childhood memory or anything. Maybe it’s somewhere in between the two things. Maybe there is a word for what I am about to explain, but if there is I don’t know it.
I’m sure it’s the same for everyone. I’m not really sure why it is that music is so evocative of time and place or, in this case, a particular memory. Why you can’t just listen to an old song, one you’ve known forever, without it being wrapped up in a whole heap of emotional stuff you thought you had jettisoned (when, little did you know, it was just sitting in your cerebral recycle bin all this time just waiting for its cue to resurface). Why even the slightest snatch of song can bring it all back, good or bad, vivid as the day it all happened.
[Actually, I do have a few theories on why this is, but this isn’t the place for them (and if I did take the risk of boring you with my bush lawyer approach to pop psychology right here I might not get invited back).]
So, a case in point. Eternal Flame. In what we used to call Form One back in the day, I wanted to be in the school choir. Or actually maybe it was the school production. They held auditions. St Cuthbert’s College music department, 1989. I remember the room, the layout of the room, the light in the room. I remember the angle of the piano and the colour of its wood. I think I even remember the texture of the carpet in the room. I don’t remember what was written on the blackboard in the room that day, but I don’t want to think too much about it. I think I could probably remember even that if I tried hard enough.
More than anything I remember how badly I wanted to be in the choir. Or the school production. Both, probably, but I think I have conflated two separate memories, rolled them up into one big eternal flaming.
I remember rehearsing in my bedroom. And I mean rehearsing a lot. I remember the nerves. But nervous as I was, all of 11, I was spurred on by a vision of greatness, by sheer determination and probably a good deal of weak-kneed naivety. 
I think you might know where this is heading. You know that feeling when you’re the last person picked for a team in gym (that was me, too, but that’s a whole other story, and one that has nothing to do with music). Or those scenes in American high school movies where they post a list of the chosen few on the bulletin board amongst the lockers in the corridor. Cheerleading or band camp or gridiron – the particular extracurricular activity doesn’t matter. What matters is the moment when you look for your name, starting from the bottom up, and it isn’t there. The moment when Eve is expelled from Paradise comes to mind. That might sound dramatic, but remember we’re dealing with an eleven year-old’s emotions here.
What I couldn’t see clearly then (but can now, of course) was that I was effectively tone deaf, heir to a strong and inescapable fortune of tone-deafness. The very fact that I even fronted for the audition was an act of sheer prepubescent stupidity that from that moment on I very quickly grew out of. With a couple of decades’ worth of water under the bridge, I now mark up the music teacher for keeping a straight face.
And that’s what I think of when I hear Eternal Flame. My very first rejection, the first dashing of hope.
As a postscript, after years of piano and violin tuition I managed to find the tune. If you are ever involved in an evening of Singstar with me and I won’t give the microphone back or play nicely, then now you know why. I do have something to prove.

Songs with a bittersweet taste (courtesy of Blog on the Tracks)


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